Imagine taking advantage of virtually everything a modern air force has to offer and living that life to its fullest for two decades. Now imagine that while acknowledging the amazing life you have led to that point, there are still things that you want to do – there are still challenges that scare you and deciding you are going to pursue those challenges. This is the amazing, dual life of Rob ‘Scratch’ Mitchell, our special guest on episode #009 of The WorkNotWork Show.
Scratch Mitchell joined the Royal Canadian Air Force right out of school and in doing so, became a third generation fighter pilot: his grandfather had flown over 400 missions in Spitfires in World War II, and is father had flown CF-101 Voodoos in the Seventies. But even with this pedigree, it was still with some trepidation and a hint of rebelliousness that he signed up. That was to kickstart a series of events that would eventually lead him to become an RCAF CF-18 Hornet demonstration pilot – the pilots of rare skill that would be called up on to show off the aircraft at the very limit of its performance.
It would also lead him to two tours with the RCAF Snowbirds, one of the best and most respected precision jet aerobatic teams in the world. He served first as a team member and then eventually returned as Team Lead. He quickly found out that this new role would not only require the absolute best of his flying skills, but also demanded his natural leadership abilities in a very difficult period for the team in the face of tragedy. By every account Scratch was well on his way to becoming a ‘lifer’ in the military from whence he would retire at a very senior rank. All of his professional efforts, both in the air and on the ground, pointed clearly in that direction.
Stunningly, Scratch then made a totally counterintuitive decision – he had discovered during his time as an air show performer had awakened a passion that was to eventually prove every bit as compelling as his early desire to fly. He wanted to act, produce and direct for television and the movies. He was contemplating walking away from a perfectly great military career where the future was certain – if not a little predictable. He was walking into the unknown, into territory that while intriguing was completely new territory for him. At that critical fork-in-the-road, he unpredictably chose the path less travelled.
He initially took on the duties of First Officer at a well-known commercial airline. He figured he was embarking on a likely decade-long pursuit of that ‘second chapter’ in his life where he would have to find a steady income to cover the uncertainty of his new career. To his surprise and delight, he waited just nine months: Discovery Channel picked up Airshow, a documentary series about life on the commerical airshow circuit, in which Scratch not only produced, but featured heavily as a member of the Patriots Jet Team. He was instantly captivated by the process and catapulted into the entertainment business where he remains to this day.
We covered a wide range of subjects with Scratch: from that amazing day when three generations of Mitchell fighter pilots flew together in the skies over Cold Lake, Alberta. We talk about his tours with the Snowbird and the CF-18 demontration team, and then move on to his decision to wind up his career with the RCAF and become an entertainment polymath: actor, producer and director. We also talk about his plans for the future and what advice he might offer to those who want to live the life he has led. We even talk about the pitfalls of celebrity, like the he was stalked down in an airport parking lot by a zealous podcast producer who wanted him on his show. Scratch is a highly articulate storyteller who possesses that rare combination of superb technical skill and the soul of a poet. It’s a discussion you really don’t want to miss.